INSTRUCTIONS 101- How to grow healthy, delicious herbs in your garden and indoors
Planting and Growing Herbs
PEOPLE have used herbs for their culinary and healing properties for centuries. Today, herbs remain as popular as ever. Cooks love the unique flavors that herbs lend to all kinds of food and drink. Herbalists treasure the healing qualities of certain flowers, leaves and roots. Herbal crafters preserve the beauty and fragrance of flowers and leaves in potpourri, wreaths, sachets and dried arrangements. And gardeners value herbs for all their excellent qualities, including their vigor, low maintenance and natural resistance to pests.
When most of us think of herbs, we picture the common kitchen seasonings, such as basil, rosemary, sage and thyme. Yet, an herb is any plant that is considered useful. For instance, the leaves, roots, seeds, stems or flowers of an herb might be important as a source of flavoring, medicine, fragrance, dye or some other product. It's not all about function. Some gardeners grow herbs simply because they are beautiful.
How To Start An Herb Garden
Herbs are very easy to grow with a little sunshine, soil that drains well, some watering, and a little fertilizer or compost. Herbs can be grown in pots; however, the plants always prefer to be in the ground where they can spread out. Some plants grow quite large (4-6 feet), and when placed in pots they can become stunted and can get stressed, which causes them to be very unhappy.
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Main Thing Necessary To Grow Herbs is to Put Them in The Right Place
The main requirement for growing Herbs is growing them in the proper location. Most prefer full sun as long as regular summer temperatures don't rise above 90 degrees. If you have very warm summers, then consider planting in and area that gets morning sun and afternoon shade in the summertime, or a place that receives filtered light (such as under a tree that allows some light to pass through). Check the area several times during the day to make sure that there are at least four hours of sun. (e.g., 8 to 12, 12 to 4, or from 9 to 11 and 2 to 4)
For planting Herbs, you need approximately 1 to 4 feet in diameter for each plant, depending on the plant. Here are some general guidelines for plant sizes:
- 3-4 feet - Rosemary, Sage, Mints, Oregano, Marjoram
- 2 feet - Basils, Thyme, Tarragon, Savory
- 1 foot - Cilantro, Chives, Dill, Parsley
Prepare The Soil
Next, you need to prepare the soil. Digging with a large garden fork loosens soil that has become compacted over the years. This allows water to drain and creates space for plant roots to reach down into the soil. This is the most important step--shortcuts here are disastrous for your plants. Adding compost to your soil, about an inch or so on top and then mixing it into the soil, helps prevent drainage problems and adds fertilizer to the garden.
The Final Step is to Plant Healthy, Strong Plants and Water Them As They Get Dry
The final step is to plant healthy, strong plants and water them when they become dry. Most Herbs like to be watered as soon as the soil located a couple of inches below the surface is dry to the touch. Since temperatures and humidity cause drying times to vary every week, you must check the soil often. Do not over-water. More water is not better and can lead to diseases or just poor growing conditions for your Herbs, which will result in reduced growth.
For harvesting, you simply cut off about 1/3 of the branches when the plant reaches at least 6-8" tall. By cutting close to a leaf intersection, your plants will regrow very quickly. Some plants, such as parsley, grow new leaves from their center. In this case the oldest branches need to be completely removed, leaving the new tiny branches growing from the center. This becomes clearer as you watch your plants grow and mature.
- If it’s the leaves you want (mint, basil, etc.) harvest them before the plant flowers. Early morning is the best time of day to pick leaves – after the dew dries, but before the heat sets in. Avoid washing leaves as this strips them of their aromatic oils.
- Harvest flowering herbs (chamomile, borage, lavender) before the flowers are fully open.
- Herbs grown for seeds (caraway, coriander, fennel, dill) can be harvested when seed pods change color.
- If it is the roots you’re after (goldenseal, ginseng), dig them up at the end of summer or early autumn.
- Many herbs (basil, mint, chives, oregano, parsley) grow better with consistent pruning and harvesting.
- Perennials can be cut back to half their height without problems.
- Stop harvesting and pruning perennials (hyssop, comfrey, lavender, mint, sage, thyme) by September, but annuals (basil, borage, chervil, coriander, dill, savory) can be harvested until the first frost.
Herb Gardening in Containers
Herbs are much easier to grow than many houseplants. All you need is a sunny, warm place and containers large enough for your plants to grow. Sunny decks, patios, and other such areas are great for container gardening. By growing Herbs in containers, you save yourself the difficulty of digging that starting a garden plot requires.
However, if you are lucky enough to have a great location for a garden, and you like to work outdoors, remember that your plants always prefer to be in the ground. Some plants grow quite large and do much better in the ground for that reason alone. Container gardening requires diligent watering and regular feeding, but it can be easy and fun.
The Main Things You Will Need Are:
- Large Pots (clay or plastic) 8" to 18" in diameter (It is a good idea to combine several herbs that have the same watering requirements into a single container)
- Good Potting Soil (enough to fill your pots)
- Plant fertilizer (Organic herb or vegetable fertilizer is recommended)
- Watering Can or Hose
For planting Herbs, you need to allow for at least 8" in diameter for each plant. Later you may want to transplant to larger pots because the Herbs will outgrow their pots over time. (Basils can grow to over 2 1/2 feet high.)
First, prepare your container by filling it with good potting soil and add fertilizer according to the directions on the package for herbs or for most vegetables. Moisten the potting soil by mixing in water until the soil feels damp all the way through. Place the pot on a saucer, if you need to protect your deck or table, and you are ready to plant.
Next, dig holes large enough for each plant. Release the plants from their starter containers by turning them upside down, tapping the bottom, and gently pulling on the base of the stems until the plant comes out of the container. Place the plant in the hole and gently press soil around the edges to fill. Water the plant immediately after planting; afterward, water them only when the soil gets dry to the touch. Over-watering can be just as bad for Herbs as under-watering.
Plants should get at least four hours of sunshine per day (certain plants appreciate a bit of shade in the hot summer months during the afternoon hours). They can grow with less sunshine, but they will not grow as well. For harvesting, you simply cut off about 1/3 of the branches when the plant reaches at least 6-8" tall. By cutting close to a leaf intersection your plants will regrow very quickly.
Where to Plant
Most herbs thrive in typical garden soil, as long as it has good drainage. However, some herbs, such as rosemary, lavender and bay, are woody plants native to the Mediterranean. These herbs prefer gritty, sharply drained soil. Good drainage is crucial because the roots of Mediterranean natives are likely to rot in moist soil. If your garden soil is heavy, grow these herbs in raised beds or planters.
Most herbs thrive in full sun (six or more hours of direct sunlight per day). If you have a garden that receives less sun, choose herbs that don't need as much. Good choices include:
Like other plants, herbs can become stressed in windy or exposed sites. Growing herbs in beds near the house or next to other buildings or walls provides a warm, sheltering microclimate and increases a gardener's chances of success with tender perennials like rosemary, which is hardy only to Zone 8. Even if you grow rosemary in containers and bring it indoors for the winter, it's still a good idea to set it out in a sunny, sheltered area.
Where to Get Plants
Some herbs are easy to start from seed, but others take a long time to germinate. Buy slow-growers at a nursery or divide existing plants. In some cases, you can grow new plants from cuttings.
From seed: Before sowing any herb, whether in seed-starting trays or directly in the garden, read the seed packet, which will give you important information. Herbs that are easy to grow from seed include:
From division: Perennial herbs can be divided easily. Use a garden fork to dig up the plant's root system and either pull the roots apart by hand (as with chives), or cut the root mass into several pieces and replant them elsewhere in the garden. You can also put small divisions in pots to grow indoors during the winter. If the divisions are to be used outdoors, the best time to divide is fall, when they are winding down for the year. When divided and replanted in autumn, plants get established faster.
Perennial herbs that respond well to division include:
- bee balm (monarda)
- chives and garlic chives
From cuttings: Stem cuttings of suitable herbs should be taken in spring or summer, when plants are healthy and growing vigorously. Rosemary and tarragon tend to root better in the fall, so use them for cuttings at that time and grow them indoors over the winter. Good choices for cuttings:
How to Take Cuttings
- Select stem segments that are tender (usually green and not woody) and about three to six inches long, with at least five leaves along the stem. Make an angled cut, just above an outward-facing leaf node.
- Remove the lower leaves on the stem, dip the cut end in rooting hormone powder, and plant it abuot 2" deep in a 4" pot of moistened potting soil. You can also use vermiculite or perlite.
- Cover the cuttings loosely with a plastic bag to create humid conditions and place them away from direct sunlight.
- Water the plants and water if needed; remove the plastic bag if there seems to be too much moisture. After a few weeks, check for new leaf growth, which indicates that the plants are rooting well. Repot the plants into larger containers filled with regular potting soil and gradually expose the plants to full sun.
Some herbs—such as basil, mint and sage—will form roots in a glass of water.
Growing Herbs in Pots and Planters
By growing herbs in pots and planters, you can grow tender perennials, such as rosemary and flowering sages year-round. Just bring them indoors in the fall. In addition, container gardening is a good option for gardeners who have limited space or soil that doesn't drain well.
Start with good-quality potting soil, which ensures good drainage. Do not use ordinary garden soil, which does not drain well when used in a container. As with other plants in containers, herbs require regular watering and fertilization throughout the growing season. Mediterranean native, such as rosemary, can tolerate fairly dry soil between watering. Other herbs with broader leaves need more attention to watering.
During the outdoor growing season, use liquid fertilizer at the rate recommended on the package. If you bring plants inside for the winter, they require much less fertilization; once or twice a month is sufficient.
Herbs That Make Good Houseplants
Herbs that can live for several years in pots include: